Friday, April 25, 2008

The Birthday Party

Without references to Harold Pinter, I'd just like to point out the kittens, who share a birthday with William Shakespeare and Sergei Prokofiev, turned a year old on Wednesday.

The first picture I took of them, five hours after they were born, shows five little wet lumps of fur - three orange, one off-white and one black - which the mother, Frieda Farrell, was safely hiding behind the toilet in "the blue bathroom." She was a stray cat I'd been feeding for quite some time, since the summer of '06 when she and her brother Fred were not yet a year old herself. I had only caught her two days earlier, knowing she was very pregnant. How soon she would deliver was a big concern, since I'd moved out of my mid-town apartment two weeks earlier and didn't want to leave her there. She'd already had one litter (she had disappeared when she was very pregnant sometime between Labor Day '06, appropriately, then returned in early March '07), and I had no idea how they fared as street-born cats born before the onset of winter in a neighborhood with lots of dogs on the loose, not to mention cars whizzing up 2nd Street.

Of all the other cats I've had in my life, I've never known exactly when they were born. These guys arrived by 9am on 4/23/2007: when I went to check on Frieda that morning after I crawled out of bed, I heard the mewing and whimpering of tiny little voices and knew the moment had arrived.

The three orange tabbies, like their mother and otherwise indistinguishable, were named Abel, Baker and Charlie. Of the hundreds of photos I took over the next several months, I look at them wonder if they're properly labeled. Looking at some of them now, I'm thinking "No, that's not Abel, that's Charlie." And then another picture labeled Abel is really Baker... The white one turned out to be a cream tabby originally named Blanche but, upon discovering his true gender is now named Guy Noir; the black one turned out to be a tortoise-shell (the only female in the litter), so she is now named Blanche Noir.

Here they are (right) at 1 day old.

They grew up rapidly. I rather hope they're done growing, since two months ago, they surpassed the older adults in size if not weight. But then their father, I'm guessing, was the big hulking tomcat, a black bruiser who used to hang around my back yard a lot, a galoot I used to call "Mr. Big," so they may have inherited his size genes.

When I lived in New York City, a couple who lived down the hall from me invited me and my two cats - Chaumleigh and Roquefort - to their cat's birthday party, complete with gifts and party hats. Knowing how territorial Chaumleigh was, I took Roquefort who immediately turned and ran down the hall (the wrong way) so, ultimately, we declined the invitation and I just presented the birthday cat with a couple of catnip mice from his neighbor cats. It just seemed a little odd, seeing a cat with a cone-shaped hat strapped around his chin, but hey...

So we didn't have that kind of party. But then with nine cats of my own, who needed guests?

It began at 9am with an attempt to take some pictures and then distributing the gifts: a collection of catnip mice, a small catnip pillow (quickly disembowled of its stuffing), a twisted orange mouse that looks like it's made from felt, and two twine-covered balls with rattles inside which proved the most successful, complete with spidery-looking appendages that allow for easy transport. Within a half hour, these had all disappeared into various Bermuda Triangles throughout the house.

That evening, I brought home a "cat tree" (more accurately a "cat shrub") from Petsmart and they were thoroughly underwhelmed. They love their scratching post, often knocking it over when they attack it with leaps from yards away. They love the little two-story units I'd gotten. This one - eh... I've seen Charlie roosting on the top but the little tunnel (invisible in this side view) has gone largely unoccupied. In this picture, Charlie is trying to make sure it's all his. However, Uncle Max seemed quite taken with it but otherwise I would say it was a flop. Kids...

Yesterday was Take Your Sons & Daughters to Work Day at WITF. It was very tempting, but I thought there was enough havoc already in place without introducing five year-old kittens into the mix. Of course, at one year, now, they're hardly kittens anymore, are they!

So here are the obligatory kids pics.

This is Frieda with Charlie, Baker & Guy, taken when they're 3 weeks old.

Right is Charlie taking the first step outside the Blue Bathroom, getting ready to explore the big new world of the Blue Bedroom, just two days shy of 1 month. Charlie has always been the most inquisitive of the kittens, kind of the leader of the pack which didn't always sit well with Abel.

Blanche, the tortoise-shell, turns out to be difficult to photograph. Even looking at her, her markings are so dark around the face, it's hard to tell she has a nose and a mouth! She's a sweetheart and loves to curl up on my lap when I try to read. She's still the smallest of the bunch, but loves to curl up on the bed with me, usually behind the crook of my knees. The first photograph was taken when she was about 6 weeks old. The second one was taken on her birthday.

Abel is the "yellowest" of the three orange tabbies, though when he races by, depending on the lighting, it's still pretty difficult to tell him from Baker, who's a little more reddish. Their personalities sometimes are easier identifiers: Abel tends not to like being petted and Baker is just really shy. He usually was hanging out with Frieda who kept herself hidden much of the day. It took ten months before I could even pet the mother, by the way: she'd always run away from me whenever I'd approach her, even though she'll sit there and watch me play with her kittens. Now, I can pet her frequently, even give her the occasional belly rub, but I've never been able to hold her for more than a few seconds before she turns into a windmill, reminiscent of that night a year ago when I enticed her into my old apartment's kitchen and snagged her on her second orbit...

None of them have white on their paws, but Charlie's the only one who doesn't have a white patch on the chin. In order to tell Abel from Baker, I have to look at the patterns of lines and dots on the cheek: there's a wedge and Baker has two dots under the wedge - Abel's dots are inside the wedge. Try and figure that out when they're flying around... The picture of Abel on the left was taken when he was about 3 weeks old. The one of him sleeping on the pile of white and purple afghans was taken the morning of their birthday this week.

When I was trying to find a home for two of them -- I'd decided I wanted to keep Guy & Blanche from the day they were born but then Charlie was just so endearing -- the only real prospect was a stranger who sounded kind of suspicious. Friends of mine who'd been interested in one of them changed their minds -- too many cats already; not sure this is a good time to be taking in a kitten and so forth -- but I'd put a noticce up at my vets and got a call. There were just too many warning signs, going from wanting to take one kitten to volunteering to take all of my cats if I wanted to find homes for them, too. It just sounded like they were recruiting for a medical lab or something. By then, for any number of reasons, I'd decided I would keep all five of them.

Baker (seen left at 3 weeks) was originally The Shy One, so I was surprised when he was about six months old that he'd start coming up to me, begging to be petted. He finally became more sociable. He's still the quietest of the batch (which is saying a great deal) and the least trouble -- the pissing contest between Charlie and Abel was pretty intense, there, for a while, and Guy may have been the official wire chewer, but Baker was really, on his own terms, quite the love. Here he is (right), stretched out on the old Victrola at the one living room window, looking very regal on his birthday, though he certainly doesn't act like a prima donna.

Guy Noir, the cream tabby, lives up to his namesake. He is the most inquisitive, befitting a detective, though we had a few problems when he appointed himself the official Chewer of Wires. Thanks to him, I have no sound on my computer, having yet to replace the two sets of speakers he'd chewed through and disabled. I have a bag full of odds and ends of cords - an old answering machine, the cell-phone recharger, a connecting cable for a DVD player, a headset, various power packs for the old computer - and I have several cables around the house that are protected by strings of cardboard paper towel tubes or are wrapped in presumably cat-proof duct-tape. He seems to have outgrown this, finally.

He also likes to go under-cover: he's one of the few cats I've ever had who likes crawling under the bedspread. Many a night I'll feel him sneak down behind me and curl up tight against me though it's not as much fun to be awakened in the middle of the night when he decides to try out his accupuncture skills on my back.

Charlie, meanwhile, is the one with the craving for plastic bags and wrappings: I've had other cats like this, who could chew their way through the handles of a grocery bag in 3 seconds flat. He also has this annoying habit of taking the toys over to the water dishes and soaking them, then dragging them around as if he's trying to wet-mop the kitchen floor. This is rarely successful and not much fun to discover in the dark in your bare-feet. Perhaps his father, Mr. Big, was part raccoon. He is also the loudest purrer of the litter. He can curl up beside me on the bed at night and suddenly it's like having a vibrating bed. Whenever I sit down on the couch, he hops up beside me and flops up against me, smiling contentedly and sounding like an outboard motor (the photo on the left, taken when he was 6 weeks old, is labeled "Charlie_HearMePurr").

I just walked out into the vestibule and found him playing with one of the new toys from Wednesday, discovering the joys of the little tunnel - at least for a few minutes. Then he hopped down and stretched out on the flagstone and yawned.

In the past six months, we've been through their teen-aged years: according to one of the many cat books I have, 1 year old is the equivalent of a human who's 18. Pretty soon, they'll be looking into colleges: next year, at this time, they will be 25 in human years, on the sliding scale that is more complex, befitting a cat, than the idea of Dog Years since dogs only have to learn to multiply by 7. But they do grow up fast.

- Dr. Dick